It has been a historic school year for Palo Alto High athletic teams. The football and girls' volleyball teams won state titles in December and the wrestling team won its first league crown in 25 years before having its highest finish ever at the Central Coast Section Championships.
The Palo Alto girls' basketball team joined that history-making club on Saturday as the Vikings won their first-ever section crown with a 54-44 triumph over rival Gunn in the CCS Division I championship game at Santa Clara University's Leavey Center.
The top-seeded Vikings (22-4) earned a No. 4 seed for the CIF NorCal playoffs and a first-round bye. Paly will host the winner of No. 5 Lincoln of Stockton (25-4) and No. 12 Castlemont (19-9) on Thursday at 7 p.m. Waiting in Saturday's semifinal likely will be No. 1 Berkeley (28-1).
Gunn (19-6), seeded third for CCS, received a No. 7 NorCal seed and will open Tuesday against No. 10 Armijo of Fairfield (24-6). Should the Titans win, they'll travel to Concord on Saturday to face No. 2 Carondelet (26-4).
Paly coach Scott Peters, who barely had much of a voice left even on Monday, was very happy with the victory because of how it was achieved.
"We just played as a team," he said. "The feeling on the bench was that we were all connected, and that's a very powerful feeling."
Paly did what it had all season, which was play hard, substitute a lot, pressure, trap and as Peters said: "We tried to create chaos and havoc. If they (any Gunn player) turned their heads, I said go trap them. We were pretty successful in our game plan."
The victory capped a remarkable turnaround for the Palo Alto program, which went 13-11 last season, 7-13 in 2009 and 9-15 in '08.
"Before this season, I could have never pictured myself being on a team that was undefeated in league and CCS champs and making Paly history in the process," said Katerina Peterson, one of four seniors on the team. "It's overwhelming and amazing experiencing a season like this one. I'm loving every second of it and enjoying it to the max."
Sydney Davis and Shamelia Clay each tallied 12 points for Paly while Emilee Osagiede added 11 points and 11 rebounds as the Vikings grabbed 43 boards, 22 on the offensive end, while Gunn had just 20. Paly's 6-foot-2 sophomore post Josie Butler had five blocked shots plus six rebounds.
"We definitely got beat in the paint tonight," said Gunn coach Sarah Stapp. "Second chance points will kill you."
"I've been here four years and it's unbelievable the progression we've made," Peterson said. "We've gone through a lot of struggles and worked really hard. We earned our league and CCS titles one game at a time, especially when the games were against Gunn.
"I liked playing Gunn in the CCS championship because we were both representing Palo Alto and we both surprised a lot of opponents. Many people didn't think either of us would make it this far! Both our teams proved Palo Alto schools are forces to be reckoned with. But, after losing every game to Gunn for the first three years of my varsity career, it sure feels good to win the last three games this year!"
The Vikings got off to a strong start as they built an 8-2 lead and extended it to 10 points twice and led 16-6 after Clay scored late in the first.
Gunn then went on its only streak of the game as Claire Klausner's three-pointer ignited an 11-0 run that gave Gunn its only lead of the game at 17-16, when Julia Maggioncalda drove in for a layup and was fouled and made the free throw with 5:41 remaining in the half. Maggioncalda was instrumental in the run as she caused numerous turnovers with her outstanding defensive play. She finished with 11 points. Fellow junior Cat Perez, however, got into foul trouble and finished with only eight.
The lead, though, was short-lived as Paly senior Lindsay Black sank a 15-footer in traffic to give the Vikings a lead they would never relinquish. The Vikings went on a 21-7 run over the next 12 minutes and held the Titans without a field goal until a Maggioncalda basket made the score 37-26.
Going into the fourth period, Gunn trailed 37-27 and forced Paly's Davis to throw up a 25-footer with no time left on the shot clock. Gunn watched in frustration as the shot went through. Osagiede followed with a basket and Davis scored six straight points. From that point on, Paly managed a double-digit lead throughout the remainder of the game and earned its first CCS title.
CCS Division I Championship
At Leavey Center, Santa Clara University
Gunn 9 12 6 17 -- 44
Palo Alto 16 13 8 17 – 54
Gunn -- Zwerling 1 1-2 4, Ogawa 1 0-0 3, Klausner 2 4-6 9, Maggioncalda 2 7-11 11, Perez 1 6-8 8, Shevick 1 2-3 5, Redfield 2 0-0 4. Totals: 10 20-30 44.
Paly – Allen 0 4-4 4, Osagiede 4 3-6 11, Davis 5 1-2 12, Black 1 0-0 2, Clay 3 6-13 12, Palmer 1 0-0 2, Philips 1 2-2 5, Butler 1 0-0 2, Peterson 1 2-2 4. Totals: 17 18-29 54.
Three-point goals: Zwerling, Klausner, Shevick, Ogawa (G); Philips, Davis (PA)
Records: Gunn 19-6; Palo Alto 22-4